COPH graduate student Dr. Joannie Bewa meets with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada

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USF College of Public Health Department of Community and Family Health master’s student and Fulbright Scholar Dr. Joannie Bewa discussed her global contribution to women’s rights and health during a recent event commemorating International Women’s Day in Ottawa, Canada on March 8.

Bewa was invited by Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau of International Development and La Francophonie to an event proclaiming Canada’s investment of $650 million over three years in funding for sexual and reproductive health rights for women in poor and vulnerable communities across the world.

“In impoverished communities, women are the least likely to have access to health care, the last ones to eat, and the most vulnerable to the hardships brought on by disease. That is why we will continue to place gender equality and rights, and the empowerment of women and girls, at the heart of our international development work,” Trudeau said.

Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, and Dr. Joannie Bewa. (Photo courtesy of Communications Office, Canada’s Minister of International Development and La Francophonie)

Bewa is a physician from Benin and global activist for youth and women’s health rights. She shared her insight on efforts she’s taken in Benin, and globally, to advance women’s health.

“It was a unique opportunity to share my story, my motivation to become a physician and to found a youth-led organization to contribute to the global advocacy on maternal and child health,” Bewa said. “At nine, I almost died because of an asthma attack, and at 12 my best friend Blandine died from the complications of unsafe abortion.”

Bewa shared her opinions on maternal and child health, best practices and also made some recommendations to the Canadian government about their new perspectives to address maternal and child health.

She also attended working sessions where she met with Canadian parliamentarians, Canada’s global affairs officials, and public health experts and researchers.

Bewa is the founder and current executive director of the Young Beninese Leaders Association, a non-profit organization created in 2010 that aims to make young people from Benin leaders in the development of Benin and Africa. This organization has reached more than 10,000 youth through reproductive health, family planning and HIV/AIDS programs, as well as youth and women’s leadership initiatives.

Bewa was selected to sit on a panel with other activities to share her experiences in work related to sexual and reproductive health. (Photo courtesy of Communications Office, Canada’s Minister of International Development and La Francophonie)

Bewa discussed the importance of investing in maternal and child health, as well as adolescent reproductive health to reduce inequalities and promote rights.

“Sexual and reproductive maternal and child health is my passion. Millions of preventable deaths related to sexual and reproductive health occur every year,” Bewa said. “It’s unacceptable to die while giving birth. Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in developing countries.”

She shared progress that has been made in Benin, as well as her thoughts on the importance of youth in pushing for maternal and child health, and using innovative strategies to promote comprehensive sexual education.

“A healthy woman is potentially a healthy mother, and they will contribute to build a healthy generation,” Bewa said. “Adolescents, youth and women face tremendous health challenges and remain the most vulnerable in many countries of the world. Having the right to choose when to have a baby, the right to make a choice for your life, the right to live while giving birth, to choose to pursue your dreams or career, have, with no doubt, a positive impact and determine positive health outcomes.”

She said some of the major milestones that have been reached in Benin include exemption fee policies for caesarean section births, lowering and stabilizing HIV prevalence, government subsidized family planning, youth advocacy for reproductive health and piloting comprehensive sexual education in schools for adolescent girls and boys.

“Some progress has been made in women’s sexual and reproductive health in countries such as Benin, but challenges remain,” Bewa said. “Youth and women’s organizations have extraordinary potential and must be key partners. In this international and humanitarian context, the world needs the voice of a global leader who will position women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health as a global priority.”


Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health